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Marion to be reimbursed by Kentucky Emergency Management for $4.6 million project to restabilize Lake George

Lake George in Marion
Midnight Believer
Lake George in Marion

Lake George was Marion’s primary water source for decades, before a sinkhole led local officials to breach the levee in May 2022.

Officials said the breaching of the levee prevented a potential failure, but it also saw the lake where community members once fished turned into a field of summer sawgrass and led to a critical water shortage that persisted for months in Crittenden County. It also led the city to switch water sources, purchase water from other regional systems and examine an old mine as a water supply.

Marion Mayor D’Anna Browning announced Monday – a little more than 18 months after the breach – on social media a plan to restabilize the earthen dam levee at Lake George.

The plan, which Browning’s office has been developing for nearly a year, calls for “a large amount of stone” to be placed in the lake to create what’s called a cofferdam – a watertight enclosure pumped dry to allow for construction work below the waterline. That structure will isolate the intake and allow workers to permanently seal the pipe that precipitated the sinkhole and breach.

Browning said that the city had signed a contract with Marine Solutions, Inc. – the same company that capped a pipe beneath the dam prior to the breach – last week for “short-term risk reduction repairs” to the levee. Kentucky Emergency Management is reimbursing the city for the project, which is estimated to cost $4.6 million.

“A year ago, we did not even know if the state would allow us to repair the levee,” Browning said. “And to this point – a year later – not only will we be able to repair it, the state will be reimbursing us for this and that's a big deal.”

The Marion official said the timeline for repairs was impacted by the Request for Proposals process, as well as the acquisition of permits and approvals from the Kentucky Division of Water and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Officials also plan to install a siphon to allow water to be released from Lake George into Old City Lake as required by the local water plant or when it approaches overflow stage – saving Marion the expense of a diesel-powered pump, like the one currently being used by the city.

Surface repairs to the surrounding roads and the levee are also planned.

Browning hopes for this first phase to be complete in the spring, though she believes most of the work can be done this winter.

She hopes the city can consider a long-term plan to save Lake George once the levee is stabilized, something she considers a high priority.

“We had a lot of people who would fish Lake George, as well as kayak,” she said. “It was a beautiful spot and it will be again one day soon, I hope.”

Browning estimates the full restoration of Lake George could cost an additional $6 million and take as long as seven years. She said the city government will be “on the hook” for that funding, but they hope to work with other local partners.

“I want to work with [Crittenden County] government, as well as our tourism board, and see if we can have a three-pronged approach to get this paid for,” the mayor said. “We also work closely with the Pennyrile Area Development District. They are combing through all of the grants and helping coordinate with the state for absolutely anything that we can do to pull this through.”

A native of western Kentucky, Operle earned his bachelor's degree in integrated strategic communications from the University of Kentucky in 2014. Operle spent five years working for Paxton Media/The Paducah Sun as a reporter and editor. In addition to his work in the news industry, Operle is a passionate movie lover and concertgoer.
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